Posts in Category: Photography

Clay-colored Thrush in Eldorado, TX

Posted May 20th, 2012 at 10:07 pm in Photography | 2 Comments

Yesterday evening (19 May, 2012), my wife and I were slowly driving through neighborhoods in Eldorado, TX in search of common city birds that aren’t always easily located in the arid landscapes of West Texas. We wanted to find things like Blue Jay, Rock Pigeon, and American Robin, for our Schleicher County list. (We’re doing the Texas Century Club, trying to see 100 or more species in 100 different counties of Texas.)

As we drove through one neighborhood, I heard a song that I immediately took for an American Robin. At least until it started throwing in some phrases that most certainly weren’t American Robin. I assumed it was a Northern Mockingbird doing a damn good impression of an American Robin. I noticed a bird sitting on the top of a planter in a front yard that appeared to be the source of the sound. The light wasn’t good and the bird was distant, but I noticed it had a pale throat. I also had a brief impression that the bill was olive-colored, and for an instant, Clay-colored Thrush entered my mind. This thought was so fleeting, so vague, that I immediately dismissed such an absurd notion and wrote off my impression as careless birding.

That is until I turned in front of the house and set my binoculars on a Clay-colored Thrush, in all it’s drab glory. I had left my good camera and telephoto lens at home (of course) but was able to digiscope a number of satisfactory shots.

Clay-colored Thrush

So, where was this masterpiece of thrushdom found? The bird was originally seen in the front yard of 209 E Redwood St, Eldorado, TX. He flew (much to my distress since I hadn’t gotten an acceptable picture at this point) but was eventually refound in the front yard directly across the street, 208 E Redwood St. The thrush interacted several times with an American Robin, foraging beside it and then getting chased off by it at one point.

The GPS coordinates to this location are 30.867886, -100.602359. Here’s a Google map to help as well. It’s not far off Hwy 277. As always, please be respectful and courteous to the neighbors if you go look for the bird.

One possibility that deserves brief discussion is the origin of the bird. Since Clay-colored Thrushes are sometimes the victim of illegal smuggling as caged birds from Latin America, there’s always the possibility when one turns up, it’s not there on its own accord. To this I simply point out that this is a species that breeds in Texas and is rapidly expanding its range northward. It has increasing turned up in unexpected places east of (along the coast) and north of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. There are at least a couple of records to the south of Eldorado in Uvalde County. Add to the fact that the bird shows no abrasion to its tail feathers or wings, and I say its more likely a wild bird than a caged.

To my knowledge, this is the first record for Schleicher County and a very northern record for a species that is rapidly moving north. Clay-colored Thrushes may breed in Amarillo by the time I’m an old man, but for now, it was a very exciting find.

Green Violetear in Abilene, TX

Posted Jul 8th, 2011 at 10:59 pm in Birding, Photography | 8 Comments

Today I saw and photographed a Green Violetear at my father’s house in Abilene, TX. It was a little surreal to look out the window expecting to see a Black-chinned Hummingbird and be greeted instead with this colorful monster. This was a first for me in Texas and the United States. I’ve previously only seen the bird in the Mexico, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. It was also a life bird for my wife. Not bad for a day when I wasn’t officially birding.

Anyway, I thought I’d post pictures online before heading off to bed, since I know many people are considering chasing the bird.

Green Violetear

Green Violetear

Green Violetear

A Day in Cambridge

Posted Jul 16th, 2009 at 10:41 am in Photography, Traveling About | 1 Comment

a church in Cambridge

On July 10th, we went to Cambridge for a day at the Museum of Zoology at Cambridge University, the Sedgwick Museum, and dinner at the famous Eagle Pub where Watson and Crick frequented during their time working out the structure of DNA. The entire album can be seen in the gallery.

My favorite picture of the day was the ceiling at the Eagle Pub. During World War II, U.S. and British airmen would leave notes on it using lighters, candles, and lipstick.

ceiling of the Eagle Pub

I would write more but I’ve gotta run as we’re headed out the door for an extended weekend of birding.

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Class by Morning, British Museum by Afternoon

Posted Jul 14th, 2009 at 7:28 am in Photography, Science, Traveling About | 2 Comments

My next installment of photos are up in the gallery, consisting largely of Amy and I’s short trip to the British museum on July 9th. In addition, I wanted to share a writeup about what the day was like. One of the requirements of the course is that we keep a journal each day. While I can’t promise to share this information every time (due to the time constraints), I wanted to give a picture of what a typical day is like.

Class in the Morning

In class this morning, Dr. Maxwell covered many of the most important naturalists of the 18th and 19th centuries. I especially found the French naturalists and the events surrounding the French Revolution fascinating as I know so much less about them than I do the same period in England. For example, I found it fascinating that the French scientists changed the name of the Kings Garden to Plant Garden (Jardin de Roi to Jardin de Plantes) in order to try and survive the French Revolution and the anger directed towards the king and the nobility. Dr. Dowler talked more about museums, how they acquire specimens, set goals and policies, and the role and responsibility of a curator.

Getting Too Smart For Our Own Good

After lunch Amy and I took the subway to the British Museum, getting off at Russell Street. It was here that I learned a valuable lesson about being a visitor in other people’s country. If you see a bunch of British people doing something a certain way and think to yourself that you have a better solution, you are, quite simply, wrong.

Here’s what happened. After getting off the tube, we followed a herd of people and found ourselves at a lift (elevator) that was absolutely packed with even more people trying to squeeze on. “Let’s take the stairs,” we said. The fact that not a single person had opted to do the same should have been our first clue. Perhaps 11 stories later after taking one enormous, never ending, twirling staircase (that lacked even a single flat section) we understood why.

The British Museum

The British Museum itself was incredible, if just a touch overwhelming. (You can steal some really nice stuff given a few hundred years.) We didn’t really have enough time, but I actually think that was a good thing. Everyone knows my attention span isn’t always the greatest, and I actually think having a shorter amount of time helps me take in a lot of things without going a little stir crazy.

Amy at the British Museum
Amy at the British Museum.

We spent most of our time looking at fairly early cultures in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Assyrian, and some Greek and Roman artifacts. There were many stunning objects, either for their significance in what they said about the culture that produced them or the quality of the artwork. For example, there were some Roman Egyptian paintings around the turn of the common era (0 A.D.) that showed a level of sophistication in their shading and use of light that were seen again until the Renaissance. You look at these things and could literally imagine the real flesh and blood of these people walking around in the room with you.

Another exhibit that struck me was some of the religious practices of the Egyptians. One contained mummified cats, which were held in cat-shaped containers and elaborately adorned, not unlike sarcophagi of the Egyptian pharaohs. In some cases, the cat had its neck broken before being entombed. The Egyptians apparently believed that animals (not just cats but lots of different animals) acted as intermediaries for certain gods. Another practice included small human figurines placed inside people’s tombs to assist with work in the afterlife. Initially, tombs contained only one or two of these figurines, but over time the number increased. At the height of this practice, 401 figurines were buried with a person — one for each day of the year plus 36 overseers to manage all the workers.

The Rosetta Stone

Of course the main thing that we went to see was the Rosetta Stone. Not that it’s that impressive to behold or that we can understand any of the languages on it. Rather the significance is really impressive.

The Rosetta Stone

I also got a handful of really cool pictures of random people looking at the Rosetta Stone. This first is of the crowds that never stop trying to press in and get a closer view.

Crowds around the Rosetta Stone

Looking at the Rosetta Stone

The Enlightenment Room

The last thing that Amy and I looked at was a collection of items in the Enlightenment Room that were in the first holdings of the British Museum when the Crown purchased the collection of Sir Hans Sloan in 1753. This exhibit included many natural history objects (most in fairlypoor shape, small, or fossilized). Also included were other items and books from 18th and 19th century England, placed in shelves along the entire perimeter of the room. Maroon velvet paneling adorned the room’s walls, which was made with wooden floors, a yellow and white ornate ceiling, and gold brass trimmings. The entire atmosphere was of a “cabinet of curiosity” as one might have seen just before the dawn of the modern museum era.

I found myself enthralled by the experience and decided that this was easily my favorite room in the museum. The reason is that it contained two histories. That of the objects themselves — Roman soldier helmets, Egyptian artwork — and that of the people and the entity that had cared to collect these objects in the first place. And as I reflected, it became apparent that every object had a story of how it came to be at the British Museum (or indeed any other museum). I imagine that some of these stories are quite mundane. Others however are not, like the Rosetta Stone itself which was apparently recovered by Napoleon in 1799 in Egypt and captured two years later by British soldiers. I felt that so many of the other rooms and exhibits in the British Museum completely lacked this context. They felt sterile.

Amy and I walked back to our rooms stopping at a cheap place for a dinner of fish and chips.

London Pictures

Posted Jul 10th, 2009 at 8:36 pm in Photography, Traveling About | Comments Off

Pictures from our first two days are now online.

Our first day we wandered around and ended up in the Wellcome Collection, a museum that has art and artifacts related to the history and science of medicine. On our second day, we went to Hyde Park to get the birding bug out of my system so I could enjoy the rest of my time in London’s museums and other attractions.

I’ve managed to get a couple of really fun pictures too, even if I had to make myself look like an idiot to do so.

Here’s a picture of the train pulling into the station. I used a really slow shutter speed with the camera on my mini tripod. The train’s movement rendered it a blur of color and light.

Incoming Train

After getting off the tube (as they call it over here), I got the following pictures with a sign for London’s Underground (the subway) and St. Pancras Chambers in the background.

London Underground

London at Night

We’ll publish more as time allows.

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Father’s Day

Posted Jul 5th, 2009 at 9:49 am in Life in General, Photography | 3 Comments

This is a belated father’s day post, which I had been meaning to put up since, well, Father’s Day. We spent the day in Abilene and had a great time. Of course I brought the camera and have an album of pictures. I got several great shots of Dad. As always, click an image for a larger version in the gallery.

My Favorite Shot of the Day

Perhaps my favorite shot of the day was a reflection of Dad that I capture in a pair of metal serving spoons as he cleaned the dishes. Now I realize that no matter how I write this, I come across as an awful son. But seriously, Amy and I cooked, cleaned, and helped throughout the day. I just grabbed the camera a few times as the opportunities presented themselves, and I was helping in the kitchen when I noticed the reflection. (Hmmm, let me re-read that last sentence… Dad is cleaning dishes while I took a picture. Yep, I still sound like a jerk.)

Dad's reflection in a spoon

The Best Shot of the Day

I also grabbed the following candid shot. The funny thing was that we were talking about cameras and I took some pictures just to show how some settings work. I wasn’t planning on actually getting a good one.

Dad

Finally, the Funniest Shot of the Day

I had been trying to get a picture of Dad as he was unpacking the box. Frustratingly, I couldn’t be fast enough to get his face as he stood up from the box. Finally in frustration, I said “Be a gopher!”. He cooperated and popped up from behind the box. The picture is priceless!

Be a Gopher

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Some Find the Virgin Mary, I Found the Devil

Posted Jun 29th, 2009 at 9:54 am in Photography | Comments Off

A burning candle captured my attention the other night. It was a great opportunity to take some pictures with very slow shutter speeds, and I quite enjoyed the results.

Candle

Candle

Near the end of my time taking pictures, I did find a unusual pattern in the candle. Smaller than a dime, this spot of wax on the candle looked like a face when the light passed through it. And naturally because of the fiery background that produced the silhouette, the image looked a little malevolent. I should have blown out the candle and tried hawking it on eBay.

Devil in the Candle

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The Good Life

Posted Jun 26th, 2009 at 8:00 am in Cat Blogging, Photography | 2 Comments

It’s been too long since I posted pictures of Bruce. I’ve got some good ones, especially since he’s the most readily available subject when I want to get the camera out.

Here’s a shot that pretty much sums up his life.

The Bruce

He never misses an opportunity to take advantage of the brief time when the sun comes through a window.

The look on Bruce’s face reminds me of the line from Office Space where the main character is asked what he did when he missed work.

I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be.

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A Drinking Problem

Posted Jun 25th, 2009 at 11:32 pm in Photography | 2 Comments

For the first time in my life, alcohol has caused me personal problems. I never thought it would, but only now do I see the error of my ways.

My wife had made a wonderful meal and suggested I take a couple of pictures of the food. (She likes to include pictures in her cookbook.)

A glass of wine, sitting on the stove, made for an irresistable photographic opportunity. The shadow it cast was interesting enough, but the light coming through the glass created these vivid red lines in the middle of the shadow.

Fifteen minutes later, I had a couple of pictures I was happy with and a wife that was none too happy with me for letting the food get slightly cold. (It was still good!)

wine glass with shadow

wine glass with shadow

As always, both pictures link to larger versions in the gallery, where a couple of additional photos are also posted.

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Oooh, pretty flowers!

Posted Jun 23rd, 2009 at 10:18 am in Photography | 2 Comments

Amy and I went to San Antonio recently and one morning I got out the camera and started focusing on my mother-in-law’s flower beds (full gallery here).

One of the more successful techniques I discovered was taking pictures “through” another flower. I’d get the camera lens very close to say an orange flower and take pictures of the flowers behind it. Due to diffraction, the light waves bend around the closer flower so that you can still see what’s behind it.

The effect looks like an impressionist painting, where everything in the photo is soft as opposed to sharp and hard edges. This picture is probably the best I obtained and it hasn’t been altered beyond basic color correction.

Impressionist Flowers

I was also able get pictures like this. You’re seeing two yellow flowers through an orange flower.

Orange and Yellow Flowers

And the smorgasbord of colors allowed for endless compositions playing with the depth of field.

Flowers

Of course flowers weren’t the only thing in the garden. Amy’s parents have two cats that were interested in what I was doing. Here’s Zio.

Zio

And this would be Chester.

Chester

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